AUBURN, Ala. — Nick Coe didn’t play a down last season for Auburn football. Yet there’s something about him that makes one teammate compare him to college football’s best at defensive end from a year ago.
Sophomore defensive end Marlon Davidson plays the same position as Coe, a former national high school wrestling champion from Asheboro, N.C. And the transition Coe made in his redshirt season on the Plains prompts Davidson to give him high praise.
“Nick is a freak of nature,” Davidson said Wednesday after Auburn’s third practice of fall camp. “Like the real deal. I look at him like Myles Garrett. He can really do it all. … It’s weird how long he’s came. He was just a little stick man coming in. Little, nothing. He grew a lot.”
Garrett went to Texas A&M and starred for the Aggies for three seasons before becoming the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Garrett combined freakish size and speed on his way to becoming one of the nation’s best overall players.
According to Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, Coe, 6-5, arrived at Auburn last year around 240 pounds. He is listed on Auburn’s fall roster at 270 pounds — almost identical to Garrett.
Steele says weight gain hasn’t altered Auburn’s view of Coe as a quick-twitch pass rusher on the edge.
“It hasn’t affected his quickness, it hasn’t affected his change of direction,” Steele said Tuesday. “It hasn’t affected his speed, and he’s a lot stronger. He understands leverage, state heavyweight champion wrestler two or three times. Those are a direct correlation with pass rush. We’re expecting him to help us there.”
That wrestling background has been a benefit for Coe, who practiced on the second-team defensive line in 2016 while taking a redshirt.
Junior defensive tackle Dontavius Russell — himself a former high school wrestler — sees Coe convert those wrestling skills into football every day at practice.
“Leverage and different things like that and understanding,” Russell said earlier this week. “If you know how to handle somebody’s body, you can do a lot of good things on the defensive line. … It definitely has helped him on his journey.”
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Although Davidson is ahead of him on the depth chart at the moment, the sophomore knows his backup has at least one advantage.
“He’s extremely powerful,” Davidson said. “I mean, like bull rush, coming off the ball, long arms — man, he’s powerful. I know he’s way stronger than me. I know that’s what I’d say. He’s just gotta come along with it. He has to help me out just like he has to help the team out.”
Auburn will put a lot of trust on Coe in 2017, even if he doesn’t get a starting job. This spring, Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner said Coe was the only player behind Davidson at the traditional defensive end spot.
Steele said Auburn has a plan in place for Coe to contribute as a pass rusher and “that could come from multiple different places.” The Tigers must replace their top two pass rushers, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams.
Davidson said his “freaky” teammate sees that opportunity, and he’s ready to take full advantage.
“He redshirted last year and didn’t get too much attention,” Davidson said. “But this year, he’s coming along. He’s making a big impact on our defense. I’m proud of him for stepping up the way he’s doing.”